Asian Games 2018: Tajinderpal Singh Toor steps out of shadows with shot put gold, raises hopes of sport's revival in country

For a few creative headline writers back home, Tajinderpal Singh Toor’s gold medal in the Asian Games on Saturday presented a delightful opportunity to bring Tour de Force into play. For the Indians in the GBK Athletics Stadium in Jakarta, the feeling of pride and joy was overwhelming as was the hope that it would inspire the whole track and field team to push the limits.

Truth to tell, the gold medal means different things to different people.

For the uncomplicated man himself, this could open up some great avenues in life. He has been under Inderjeet Singh’s shadow, finishing fifth with 19.24m, in the 2015 Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea. And in the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneshwar, the silver medal behind Iran’s Ali Samari meant that he had yet to do the hard yards.

Athletics - 2018 Asian Games - Men's Shot Put Medal Ceremony - GBK Main Stadium, Jakarta, Gold medallist Tajinderpal Singh Toor on the podium. Reuters

Gold medallist Tajinderpal Singh Toor on the podium. Reuters

As someone who has been at it for half a dozen years now, it was important that this farmer’s son from Moga district in Punjab be seen as doing his best with each throw. It was important to duck the theory that Indian shot putters perform better in domestic competitions, racking up good distances, but not replicating them in international events.

His consistent series on Saturday was testimony to his hunger to do his bit in ending that belief. His opening throw of 19.96m would have won him gold. He followed it up with 19.15m, his weakest effort and fouled the third attempt. But, driven by his coach Mohinder Singh Dhillon, he found motivation to get better and recorded 19.96, 20.00 and 20.75m for the Games record.

The left-hander kept himself charged up despite the exit of Iran’s Shahin Mehredalan and Saudi Arabia’s Asian recod holder Sultan Abdulmajeed Alhebshi. It was a veritable testimony to the fact that he wanted to be in a zone of his own, beyond his own comfort zone on Saturday. This was the moment that he had perform at his best.

For coach Dhillon, the gold comes as reward for all the hours of training that he has overseen in the past few years. Of course, like all gurus, he was a tad disappointed that Tajinderpal Singh Toor could not breach the 21m mark. That was the goal he had set his trainee for the night in anticipation of a big battle with the Iranian.

For the powers-that-be who want to see an Olympic finalist in a field event in Tokyo two years later, the gold medal gives hope in the wake of discus thrower Vikas Gowda’s decline and retirement. The Athletics Federation of India and the Sports Authority of India would be delighted that their vision and management of his training has paid dividends.

It had got India back on top of the podium in the Asian Games in an event in which it has rich legacy, having won eight gold medals through five throwers — Madan Lal (1951), the legendary Parduman Singh (1954, 1958), Joginder Singh (1966 and 1970), Bahadur Singh Chauhan (1978 and 1982) and finally Bahadur Singh Sagoo in Busan in 2002.

In 2006 in Doha, Navpreet Singh had managed a fourth-place finish, his best of 18.99m being 45cm short of the bronze medal. Om Prakash Karhana got 19.17m four years later in Guangzhou but was only good for fourth place. Inderjeet Singh heaved the iron ball to 19.63m in Incheon and made it to the podium with a bronze medal finish.
For the die-hard athletics fan, the start of India’s campaign in track and field sport could not have been better. An Asian Games gold with a record at that. Their expectations from the 50-member squad will soar higher than before.

Come to think of it, the import of Tajinderpal Singh Toor’s gold medal goes far beyond the Games. For a couple of reasons, the shot put discipline in India has been in the throes of an identity crisis for a while. First, despite promising much, no Indian has won an Asian Games gold in the event since Bahadur Singh Sangoo in 2002. Second, the sceptre of doping has claimed many victims.

Om Prakash Singh Karhana, who held the previous national record (20.65m) since 2012, has been too mercurial and did not deliver on the big stage. For someone who went past the 20m mark at home, he would frequently slip below 19m, if not to the low 18s, in big competitions. That raised a few questions, not the least about his temperament.

World University Games champion Inderjeet Singh, on whom the AFI had pinned hopes, tested positive ahead of the Olympic Games in 2016 and is fighting a ban imposed on him by the National Anti Doping Authority. The junior shot putter Ankit Dahiya is also serving a four-year ban and this did not augur well for the event.

As if that were not enough, a clutch of women shot putters, including Asian champion Manpreet Kaur are facing either provisional suspensions or bans after being heard. Suffice to say, things were not looking good in an event in which India has held a mastery at least at the Asian level. Viewed against such a backdrop, the gold medal on Saturday evening comes as a relief.

Yet, the gold medal would mean the greatest to his father Karam Singh, battling bone cancer for a couple of years now. After all, it was he who suggested that Tajinderpal give up his obsession with cricket and pursue an individual sport. It is easy to imagine that his son’s gold medal in the Asian Games would come as a greater balm to him than perhaps medicines in dealing with his pain. And that perhaps will be the greatest thing that the gold medal does.

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Updated Date: Aug 26, 2018 12:03:38 IST

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